Businesses deny Gove claims of ‘readiness’ on no-deal preparation

Michael Gove

UK firms present at a meeting with no-deal Brexit minister Michael Gove this week have denied his claim that industry told him it is “ready” for no-deal Brexit.

In the resumed Commons session, the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said: “The automotive sector, who I met this week, confirmed that they were ready, the retail sector said they were ready.”

Three attendees at the relevant meeting in Coventry this week told the BBC this was not an accurate reflection of Monday’s meeting with manufacturers.

“I was at the meeting. There’s no way that is the message he could have gone away with,” said one business leader.

Another present, when asked if Mr Gove had been told by the car industry that it was ready, replied: “No! We said we are planning as best we can, but cannot prepare for all eventualities and tariffs alone undermine our viability. We want a deal. No deal is not an option. Catastrophic.”

A written briefing for the EU exit preparedness manufacturing round table has been obtained by BBC News.

It was held at the National Automotive Innovation Centre on Monday afternoon and attended by Aston Martin, the British Ceramic Confederation, Ford, Make UK, Toyota and the SMMT.

‘Crystal clear’

The briefing says the key message was “leaving without a deal is the worst possible outcome”, that “short-term disruption is likely to be severe after 31 October”, and that businesses were “preparing the best they can, but it is creating huge costs, particularly for SMEs”.

Another organisation present told the BBC that the Commons’ claims did not “bear reality”, that bigger car companies said they had prepared as far as they can, but there was “no preparing” for developments such as tariffs.

It said smaller companies had said that further down the supply chain, it was impossible to prepare, because they didn’t have the resources or the expertise to prepare and they didn’t know what they were preparing for.

Other major carmakers have told the government in writing that “they have done what they can” but “you cannot really be ready for a no-deal outcome”.

Separately, retailers also again disputed Mr Gove’s claims about readiness in food supply. The British Retail Consortium said in a statement that it had been “crystal clear” that “it is impossible to completely mitigate the significant disruption which would be caused by no-deal” and “would likely see reduced availability and higher prices”.